Situated inside Yosemite National Park, the Hetch Hetchy Valley was described by John Muir as “one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples.” The pristine Tuolumne River flowed along the valley floor, surrounded by flowered meadows and ancient forests which teamed with bears and bobcats, rushes and eagles. Indeed, Hetch Hetchy Valley was considered one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the world.
Initially protected by the establishment of Yosemite National Park, in 1913 the city of San Francisco won congressional approval to build the O’Shaughnessy Dam which buried this extraordinary wilderness valley under 300 feet of water. Although John Muir was unsuccessful in preventing this from happening, his rigorous campaign resulted in the creation of an international environmental conservation movement.
Modern engineering advances afford us the opportunity to remove the reservoir and create one of the most ambitious and exciting environmental restoration projects in human history. As a living laboratory, Hetch Hetchy will advance the science of restoration by providing biologists, ecologists and botanists from all over the world with the chance to apply cutting-edge science to re-establishing lost habitats.
Soon after the valley is drained and the valley floor becomes exposed, Hetch Hetchy could also serve as a classroom for teachers, students and volunteers to experience restoration first hand, with tours for the public to learn about the restoration efforts and the area’s wildlife.
Within five years, native grasses and wildlife would begin to reappear as the Tuolumne River reclaimed its original channel. Willows and alders would quickly return to its banks and, soon after, Ponderosa pines and oak woodlands would begin to take root. As habitat restored itself, large numbers of animals would migrate home and the twin of Yosemite Valley would re-emerge in the light of the 21st century.
Families from around the world will be able to return to Hetch Hetchy Valley year after year to witness a national treasure coming back to life.